Tuesday, August 14, 2007, #154 (1421)

Pointed words exchanged as international probe commences

By Eter Tsotniashvili

Russian deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov
says missile incident a Georgian-staged "show"

Georgian officials branded remarks from a top Russian official on the Tsitelubani missile incident "immoral" in a sharp rebuke yesterday, while announcing that foreign experts would soon present their version of what happened on August 6.

Russian deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov, viewed as close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, suggested the missile incident was a "theatrical show" poorly staged by Georgian authorities in order to scupper the Joint Control Commission (JCC) format for discussing South Ossetian conflict resolution issues.

He pointed out that the police cordon around the missile site only had a radius of two or three meters.

"If a real bomb or rocket with an unexploded warhead was really there, the police should have sealed the area with a minimum radius of 500-800 meters," Ivanov, a former defense minister, said.

He added that Tbilisi was successful in its supposed objective.

"It has, however, achieved its goal. It has thwarted JCC. This was the intended result," he stated.

The JCC is a quadripartite commission that brings together the Georgian, South Ossetian, Russian and North Ossetian sides to discuss the South Ossetian conflict. Tbilisi is uneasy with the arrangement, where they say the other three sides work in tandem against Georgia, and calls for an internationalization of the talks.

A planned August 9-10 session in Tbilisi appeared unlikely to go ahead even before the Tsitelubani missile incident, when South Ossetian representatives said on August 3 they wouldn't go to the Georgian capital because of security concerns.

Kote Gabashvili, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in parliament, described Ivanov's suggested version of events as "immoral" while speaking to Rustavi 2 on August 13.

State Minister for Conflict Resolution Davit Bakradze was even more acute in his response.

"Unlike its neighboring country, Georgian authorities do not plant bombs in apartment buildings," he said

Bakradze was apparently referencing 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk that left nearly 300 Russians dead. Moscow authorities blamed Chechen militants for the attack; others claim the bombings were masterminded by Russian security services as a pretext for a second war in Chechnya.

De facto leader of South Ossetia Eduard Kokoity, however, propounded the Russia official's allegations of a Georgian hoax.

"The bombing shows that Saakashvili does not think about the expected results. They [the Georgian government] make provocations against the Georgian people in order to blame Russia and South Ossetia," Kokoity declared to Imedi TV.

Georgian radar records-viewed by a joint monitoring team of peacekeepers and OSCE observers-show aircraft violating Georgian territory from the north, entering above the town formerly called Kazbegi near the Russian border.

Georgia claims the intruders were two Russian Su-24 attack planes, one of which dropped a Raduga Kh-58 guided missile. The missile, which did not explode, hit an area near the village of Tsitelubani in the Gori district, near breakaway South Ossetia.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Internal Affairs announced on August 13 that experts from Lithuania, Latvia and the United States have arrived in Georgia to investigate the incident.

"The group of experts has already inspected the incident site and they have been shown air traffic records," confirmed Shota Utiashvili, an Interior Ministry spokesman.

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